Friday, March 13, 2009

Stuck in the Middle

There is definitely an art to crafting a successful middle reader or early teen novel. Beyond juvenile humor this type of book has to resonate with its reader. That means capturing the voice and nuances of a preteen or early teen. They are tough judges but a few book have managed to pass their tests.

Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff"
By Jennifer L. Holm
For ages 10 – 13
I love books that take a chance. This creative story of a girl in seventh grade does just that with a non-traditional narrative that works. The "Regarding the..." series by Kate and Sarah Klise have successfully adapted a non-traditional narrative format with middle readers. But "Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf" takes it a step further. Reading this story is like looking through a scrapbook or journal and it all starts with a list.

Ginny Davis begins her seventh grade year with a list of things to accomplish. However, things don't always go as planned. Some might even say they don't usually go as planned. Her list, notes, IM messages, and much more "stuff" tells of the ups and downs of the school year. The "stuff" even delves into a few of Ginny's deeper issues. She gains a new stepfather, her brother has problems with alcohol and bad behavior, and her grades take a plunge. Don't worry, this tale isn't a deep introspective drama on the trials and tribulations of being a young teen. Ginny's year ends on a high note.

This book offers a glimpse of hope and resilience. The scrapbook style involves readers without seeming like a gimmick. But honesty and humor are what make this book work. It creates a believable and appealing voice that engages readers, especially young girls.

"Teddy Roosevelt and the Treasure of Ursa Major"By Ronald Kidd
Illustrated by Ard Hoyt
For ages 6 – 10
Adapted from a Kennedy Center stage production "Teddy Roosevelt and the Treasure of Ursa Major" is the first in a series of "Capital Kids" stories that follow the children of the White House on fun-filled adventures. Liberally sprinkled with historical facts and interesting White House folklore, children will be thrust into an educational story without even knowing it.

Told from 11-year-old Archie Roosevelt's perspective, "Teddy Roosevelt and the Treasure of Ursa Major" follows three of the younger Roosevelt children as they find a mysterious slip of paper pressed between the pages of "Treasure Island." Pretty soon the Roosevelt children are scampering from room to room in the White House following clues to a hidden treasure. Add a boisterous President, a bumbling Russian ambassador, and a mysterious new nanny and you have an entertaining mystery children won't want to put down.

"Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls" (series)
By Meg Cabot
For ages 8 – 11
Best known for "The Princess Diaries," Cabot brings her trademark, frank comedy to the world of a good-hearted, impulsive, and generally nice girl. The series begins with Moving Day. Allie feels her world is on the verge of collapsing because her family is moving across town. While all this happens she loses her best friends and becomes the dreaded "new kid in school." So Allie creates rules to help herself live in an increasingly complex world. With a new installment expected on shelves this September you may want to start reading the first three books now. Look for Moving Day, The New Girl, and Best Friends and Drama Queens at your local bookstore.

Each of the "Rules for Girls" books is a compulsive read that deftly captures the conflicted feelings of a nine-year-old girl as the politics of friendship begin to complicate the rules of life. Cabot handles this struggle with fun and humor, which allows children to connect with the characters and enjoy the stories.

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